We are in the midst of a record snowfall season in Mammoth Lakes and and we have seen unprecedented closings of highway 395, which is the only road in and out of Mammoth Lakes. Locals are worn down from shoveling everyday, the town is currently under a state of emergency, and lots of structures around town are on the brink of collapse due to snow load. However, the powder skiing & riding is great and that brings in a ton of visitors. With that in mind we wanted to do a blog post on how to survive one of the legendary atmospheric river snowstorms we have been having.
1 - Check the Caltrans website & do not try to take alternate routs (and carry chains)
People do some crazy things when the powder panic hits. One of the major issues with this last storm was people ignoring road closures or pulling up Google Maps to find alternate routes in the quest to ride powder at Mammoth Mountain. If the 395 is closed then that means the alternate routes to Mammoth Lakes are impassable. If you attempt to get up here during closures you will get stuck and that is an expensive mistake. You will need to hire a specialty towing company to come get you which means you will be stuck in your car for hours and you will be hit with a hefty towing bill. Just wait it out in Bishop. You should also be aware that when the 395 is open during major storms, Caltrans will require chains to be installed even if you have AWD or 4x4. Yes, I have personally been turned around and sent back to Bishop to get chains for my 4x4 truck with winter tires. Make sure you have chains with you even if you feel you do not need them.
2 - Contact your hotel or Airbnb host in advance
These storms are often in the forecast for a week or longer. Do not try to cancel your reservation the day before or day of your arrival due to road closures. It is very unlikely you will get a refund due to weather if you try cancel at the last second. The sooner you contact your AirBNB/VRBO host or hotel front desk, the more options you will have. If you think the road might be closed or if you just don't want to be forced to drive in a 2 feet of snow, then you should plan ahead. If there is snow in the forecast at the end of your trip then you should be prepared to leave early or get stuck in Mammoth for a day or two. Don't expect a free night in your Airbnb either, you will have to pay for the night even if the road out of town is closed.
3 - Have a shovel in your vehicle (and remove the snow from your roof)
If it dumps in Mammoth you will need a shovel, unless you have garage parking and you take the free shuttle to the mountain. If you plan to drive to one of the many parking areas around Mammoth Mountain, you may return to a 3 foot berm in front of your car after a day of riding pow. The snow plows will remove snow from parking lots during the day if needed and they will not return to shovel the berm left behind. If you don't have a shovel it will be quite the task to get out of your parking spot. If you do not have covered parking at your Airbnb or Hotel you will likely wake up to a ton of snow on your vehicle. It can take a lot of time to get your vehicle uncovered even if you have a shovel and it is almost impossible when you don't have a shovel. Also, please don't drive around with 2 feet of snow on your roof. Take the extra 5 minutes to get the snow off the top of your car. If you leave a ton of snow on the roof of your car it can create a dangerous situation when it finally falls off in the road (and you can get a ticket from the CHP).
4 - Pack your patience
Big dumps bring big crowds. With more people are in town and tons of snow everywhere, it is difficult to do anything. Parking can be a struggle, lift lines are long, the grocery store is super busy, and restaurants get overwhelmed. Picking up groceries in Bishop is a great idea. Not only does it prevent the local Mammoth Lakes Vons from getting completely wiped out, but you will avoid the legendary check out lines that can be 10-15 people deep. Going out to restaurants early or late is also a good idea. If you try to go out to dinner at 6pm you'll likely have an hour wait. Go to dinner at 4 or 5pm or after 7:30 and you'll have a much better experience. Mammoth Mountain will likely have lift closures and lift lines can be long, so don't let the powder panic turn you into an asshole. There is plenty of powder for everyone and I guarantee that Mammoth Mountain ski patrol is doing everything they can to get the mountain open quickly.
5 - Do not ski or ride down the street
We have been seeing people do this more regularly over the last few years. There is a ton of snow on the road and skiing down the street to your parking spot seems like an innocent enough thing, right? Wrong! This is extremely dangerous. Many streets around the ski resort are reduced to one lane during storms. There are ruts, deep snow, low visibility, and lots of inexperienced winter drivers. This is recipe for disaster as drivers are unlikely to see you and it is super easy to hit a rut that will pull a vehicle out of its lane. People have been seriously injured and killed just walking around town during a storm. Not to mention all the snow removal equipment on the roads, just don't do it.
6 - Be prepared to hunker down in your condo or hotel
When we get those multi-day super dumps the snow removal process can be slow. People start parking in roads or in the middle of parking lots because there is no where else to park. That prevents snow removal equipment form making it into your complex parking lot. Restaurants may have to close because workers can't get to work. The grocery store can get low or run out of inventory because delivery trucks can't make it to town. The moral of the story is to make sure you stock up on enough food in case you can't drive anywhere for an entire day (or 2). Did we already mention that you should buy your groceries in Bishop? Please make sure to do that so the locals have food too.
7 - Have fun in the deep snow
When the ski resort does open all the lifts, there is a great opportunity for the powder run of a lifetime. Just be patient, Mammoth Mountain is one of the best in the business at getting lifts open. There are plenty of other ways to have fun in the case your favorite lift is shut down. Snowshoeing is a super fun activity in mammoth. Just find an open area or a hill and start hiking (be aware of avalanche danger if you are venturing up a steeper slope). You can rent or buy snowshoes at a few local shops. Snow sledding is also a great activity for anyone, not just kids. Often times you can find a good spot right in front of your short term rental or hotel. Just make sure the sledding run does not go into a road. I like to walk to my favorite brewery or bar when the weather is super crazy. Just make sure you wear bright colors because it is difficult for drivers to see pedestrians when the weather is wild. Lastly, a good old fashioned snowball fight is never a bad option.
8 - Please get a low light lens for your goggles
Nothing ruins a day on the hill quicker than not being able to see. When the wind is blowing and the snow is flying, visibility will be low. Having a yellow, orange, or rose colored lens makes a huge difference. I see way to many people skiing and riding in blacked out or mirrored lenses on storm days. Dark lenses in low light can make a low visibility day into a no visibility day real quick. Are they to cheap to buy an extra lens? Did they forget to bring their low light lens? Do they just like to look cool? Who knows, but this is the best tip I can offer for making a stormy day on the hill more fun.
9 - Don't engage with a hostile local (most of us are nice)
Most of the locals in town understand that our community only exists because of tourism. The more people that visit Mammoth Lakes, the more money there is to go around in our local economy. However, I can see why some locals can get upset during these extreme weather events. When all your neighbors are Airbnb guests and cars are blocking roads because people are trying to drive their Tesla in 2 feet of snow, it gets frustrating. When 395 closes for multiple days and gas and groceries can't be delivered, we can have a shortage. Visitors buy up all the food and gas while locals are digging out their homes. If a local says something negative to you, just let it go, they are likely just stressed out about the possibility of their roof collapsing and the fact that half the grocery store is sold out. You are more likely to encounter a hostile local on social media, and online comments can be particularly nasty, but they are easy to ignore. Just move on with your life and the next local you meet will likely welcome you to town.
10 - Thanks a snow plow driver, on-stie condo manager, or lifty
It is tough to live in Mammoth Lakes when we get an extreme winter. Locals spend the whole day shoveling or driving a snow plow while all the visitors are riding pow. The CHP, Caltrans, and Mammoth Mountain employees are some of the hardest workers in town, so give them a break even when roads or lifts are closed. They are working hard to get things open in addition to keeping their own homes safe. Make sure you say thank you when you get the opportunity.